Bloggers have become a sounding board for company spinners looking to build word-of-mouth campaigns or head off a public relations disaster. While hesitant to pay for endorsements in the blogosphere, businesses are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for online media monitoring.
Catching a buzz is a whole lot easier than it used to be.
For marketers, public relations operatives and companies looking to promote a brand, blogs and other online media have become a valuable resource to listen to consumers talk about what they like -- and, even more important, what they don’t.
Because these online exchanges come unprompted and unfiltered, they are a perfect sounding board for corporate spinmeisters looking to generate excitement about a new product, gauge reaction to a new advertising campaign, or just hear their customers describe, in their own words, how they behave. Sometimes it’s just as valuable to monitor talk about the competition.
"There’s this belief that word-of-mouth marketing is the best you can buy, and it’s free," says Sue MacDonald, spokeswoman for Cincinnati-based Intelliseek, which tracks online discussion groups and more than 20 million blogs for such clients as Canon, Ford Motor Co., Microsoft, Nokia, Proctor & Gamble, Toyota and Volvo. "A lot of it is taking place on the Internet and you can track it. Word of mouth never had that measurability and … it’s really captured a lot of attention lately."
Some companies have taken the extra step of setting up their own blogs or paying individuals, not necessarily employees, to act as advocates on their behalf.
The Pennsylvania Tourism Office last summer recruited six people to travel around the state on weekend trips and picked up the tab, up to $1,000 per excursion. In return, the travelers were expected to blog about their experiences and upload the photos and videos they took.
"There’s nothing more valid than a third-party validation and that’s what bloggers do," says David Heidenreich, vice president of strategy and online planning for Ripple Effects Interactive, a Web advertising firm in Pittsburgh that conducted the campaign. It created an online relations department in August to monitor blogs on behalf of a half-dozen undisclosed clients in the tourism and higher education industries.
From a publicity perspective, the tourism project was a stroke of genius. Ripple Effects did a little promotion work within the PR industry, but word of mouth spread quickly, culminating in mentions on mainstream media outlets like CNN and the Associated Press.
"That buzz started at the underground level and Reuters picked it up and it went national," Heidenreich says. "We reached out to 25 blogs and all of a sudden we’re getting mentioned on 250 blogs."
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